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State legislature votes to not target bus service in trigger cuts

School buses
School buses

Parents, especially in rural parts of the state, can breathe easier after state lawmakers changed their minds Thursday and voted not to target school bus service in a midyear cut to education.

Both houses of the Legislature approved the bill, sending it to Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it.

The move alters a $248 million school transportation spending cut lawmakers included in the state budget they passed last summer. The cut was to take effect automatically at the start of the year because tax revenue was running well behind projections, but many school districts objected.

Eliminating or significantly reducing bus service would have the greatest effect on rural districts, where students have to travel long distances to get to and from school. Lawmakers listened, and now say school districts can absorb the cut anywhere in their overall budgets.

The measure would take effect immediately if Brown signs it into law, but only protects transportation funding through the rest of this school year.

SB81 cleared the Assembly 54-4 and the Senate 26-8. In the Assembly, some lawmakers representing suburban areas objected or abstained because their districts would lose more money under the funding shift.

"We're going to gore one district to fix another," said Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, who did not vote.

Supporters of the legislation said some districts will indeed lose some money under the change but can survive. They argued the transportation cuts would have been devastating to other districts and the children who rely on the service.

The state's largest district, the Los Angeles Unified School District, had voted to sue the state when the cut took effect last month. Overcrowding in some schools forces the district to bus certain students on lengthy trips through rush-hour traffic.

"It all boils down to this: Children cannot learn if they cannot get to school," said Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Bob Blumenfield, D-Sherman Oaks, who carried the bill.

The fix for this budget year "is a Band-Aid on the problem," Blumenfield said, because Brown is proposing to eliminate the funding in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. He promised a later debate on that more sweeping proposal.